Troy Hightower

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Eataly in Rome

Marché, mercado, merkatuan, markt, mercato—markets, food halls are our thing. Every trip to Venice finds us canal-side at the Rialto market; visits to Barcelona, at La Boqueria. In Rome there are always multiple trips to the Campo dei Fiori, but on a recent trip we decided to venture further afield to the Mercato Testaccio south of Rome's center, in the meat packing district. Taking a cab ride to that area, we found the market square and found the wire and wood barricade that boarded the place closed, tighter than a drum. Inquiry in a cafe elicited the fact of permanent closure.

So we consulted our map and iPod guide and found that we were a few blocks from the Ostiense train station, and what had been a downtown air terminal, a cavernous three story space now housing the Rome branch of the chain of food emporia known as Eataly. We'd visited the New York branch in which molto Mario Batali is heavily involved, and it was inspiring, but nothing like the serious cook’s heaven that the Rome branch turned out to be.

Imagine combining Harrods Food Halls, Paris’ Grand Epicerie, and Peck in Milan on three high-ceilinged floors connected by a network of moving sidewalk ramps. There are 18 casual restaurants/dining bars scattered about, and the sit down white tablecloth Eatalia on the top floor. There are several outdoor terraces, wine and beer bars, the latter inside a micro brewery, espresso and grappa bars, truffle caviar and ice cream bars, and huge sections for all major segments of food shopping.

Getting our bearings, we meandered through the ground floor looking at kitchen implements we might fancy, searching the fresh vegetable market and finding long stemmed roman artichokes, tiny white eggplants and mounds of wild mushrooms. The panninoteca is chocked with freshly baked breads of all shapes, sizes and grains, and fresh focaccia and pizza emerge continually from the ovens. The cioccolateria contains what may be the largest selection of chocolate types ever found in one place.

Ramping up to the second level, we found the birreria—a beer bar inside a microbrewery featuring several beers brewed on site, as well as quality microbrews from all over Italy. I take a break to savor in icy glass of Bianca lager while Troy wandered further. The second level also contains the pescheria and maccelleria--enormous fish and meat markets in their own right. Huge bright red shrimp, curled octopus, soglio, branzino, dentice, and more, all smelling briny and of the sea—not the least bit fishy. In the meat market, great slabs of bistecca fiorentina from the famed Chianina beef, milky veal, roasts and chops aside liver, tongue, brains and sweetbreads for those who covet such delicacies.

Restaurants—mostly dining bars—in Eataly are organized by food type. Thus a fish restaurant sits adjacent to the pescheria, a meat restaurant near the butcher, and so forth. After browsing the salumeria and cheese shop, we perch at the adjacent bar to savor a plate of jamon Iberico, mortadella, fennel salami, and robiola and pecorino cheeses with a basket of assorted breads from the bakery and a couple of glasses of crisp Ribolla  Gialla.

Eataly employs hundreds of staff, and they are mostly young and attractive, and all seem happy in their work. Having a decent job in high unemployment and staff meal to go along no doubt contributes. But whatever the reason, happy shopkeepers and baristas is a benefit to the customers and the experience.

Ok, some lunch out of the way, what are we going to buy for dinner?  Back to the butcher for two perfect partly boned, stuffed and rolled quail to pan sautée in our tiny Campo dei Fiori kitchen.  Over to the wine shop for a bottle of Greco di Tufo. Down to the fresh pasta shop/factory to look over the huge variety of stuffed pasta, to settle on green  fagottini--tiny beggar’s pouches of spinach pasta stuffed with pear and gorgonzola that we'll nestle in sage brown butter.

 Whoops--there's the ice cream bar—we better sample a cone of liquirizza gelato. Whoa—there’s the espresso bar—must  be time for a thimble of treacly thick Italian spresso, and, yes, I can get a grappa—the Jacopo Poli Barrique.

What's missing?  Veg.  Back down to the primo piano--foraged wild mushrooms? Those long stemmed artichokes? Mixed peppers? No. The simple spinach with butter we had last night on the Campo was so divine we’ll recreate that. Dessert? We'll pick up something at Forno Rosciolli around the corner from the apartment. We need to buy something locally in the hood!

Eataly--don't miss it on your next trip to Rome.

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